Phone calls not recorded

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 28, 2004

EUTAW – After a letter written by District Judge Lillie Jones-Osborne sparked weeks worth of speculation into someone recording phone calls in the Greene County Courthouse in Eutaw has finally come to a conclusion.

Greene County Sheriff Johnny Isaac launched a full investigation into the phone system after hearing the beeps for himself and then reporting them to the phone company.

District Attorney Greg Griggers said Isaac and an agent from the ABI traveled to Birmingham a few days ago and met with the director of BTS (Business Telephone Systems) to discuss the recording issue. After the meeting, Isaac sent out a letter stating that the three beeps in the phone was not dealing with recording calls, but it beeped when someone was on the phone long distance more than three minutes.

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“The letter stated that no one has been recorded and the three beep option was turned on by a mistake,” Griggers said, “The letter also said the problem has been investigated and is now considered a dead issue.”

When the problem with the phones first came out, there were reports of recording all over the place. One of the deputies called BTS (Business Telephone Systems) in Birmingham and asked them if there was a problem with the phones. BTS told him that they were recording the calls, but that changed to just monitoring the calls and not recording them on the second phone call he placed, Isaac said.

“We have launched a full investigation into this matter and I’ve also called the ABI for their assistance as well,” Isaac said, “I want to know who authorized the recording of conversations because it’s an illegal act.”

Commissioner William Johnson said he didn’t know who was causing this, but it needed to be stopped because of the all the confidential calls that are placed and received in the courthouse everyday. Once the option of recording was known to exist on the phone system, the option was turned off on July 2, Isaac said.

“With the help of the ABI, we will get to the bottom of this because if someone has been recording conversations, then we will find out who, and why,” Isaac said.

In the letter obtained by The Times, Osborne contends, “that an unknown person within the courthouse has been recording the telephone conversations of the various offices in the courthouse including the District and Juvenile Court.”

She contends that the new telephone system was purchased because of the system’s capability to monitor and record calls.

“I am outraged that telephone conversations were being recorded in my office especially conversations that are confidential and should have never been recorded,” she states in her letter.

She requested Beeker launch and “immediate” investigation.

Beeker said he’s done just that with Sheriff Johnny Isaac, and the investigation would “include any agencies necessary.”

Beeker, who received the letter Tuesday, said he thought the new system protected privacy of the calls and prevented such an event from happening.

“We didn’t get the system because we could record and monitor. I thought there was no way to breech privacy, but someone read in one of the books that the phones could record and monitor calls,” he said.

Beeker said once courthouse officials discovered the feature, it was deactivated so calls could no longer be recorded or monitored.

“Looking into it, we found several employees who had heard beeping or some sort of tone in the phones,” he said.